Manager Brad Ausmus spoke to Albert Pujols and Justin Bour about the squeeze play Wednesday, but the conversation with the Angels first basemen had nothing to do with getting a bunt down with a runner on third base.
It was about the squeeze Shohei Ohtani will put on their playing time. The right-handed-hitting Pujols and the left-handed-hitting Bour must accept reduced roles now that Ohtani, who returned from Tommy John surgery Tuesday, will be the team’s everyday designated hitter.
“Albert is going to face all of the left-handers and some of the right-handers, and Bour will face some of the righties,” Ausmus said. “It will boil down to performance, but playing into that is we’ve got to keep Albert healthy.”
Lower-leg and foot injuries limited the 39-year-old Pujols to a combined 34 starts at first base — and 265 at DH — in 2016 and 2017 and 70 starts at first and 47 at DH in 2018. He has started 13 games at first base this season, including the first two games of the Detroit series, and 18 games at DH.
Pujols, who entered Wednesday with a .214 average, five homers and 17 RBIs, is expected to start about 60% of the time with Bour, who is batting .169 with three homers and 13 RBIs, starting about 40% of the time.
But to preserve Pujols and increase his productivity, the Angels will restrict his time in the field. Ausmus said Pujols will make a third straight start Thursday because the Tigers are calling up left-hander Ryan Carpenter from triple A to pitch, but that will probably be his limit.
“I generally want to avoid three games in a row, as a rule, but he’s going to play [Thursday] with another lefty going,” Ausmus said. “But he won’t play the following day. I’m going to be very cognizant of taking care of Albert’s knees and keeping him healthy the entire season.”
Ausmus is also aware of Bour’s need for regular at-bats to find his timing and rhythm.
“I hope they both tear the cover off the ball and it becomes an extremely difficult decision for me on a daily basis,” Ausmus said. “But I’ve said it all along, it’s a performance game, and performance comes into play.”
Reliever Keynan Middleton suffered a minor setback in his rehabilitation from Tommy John surgery last week but has resumed throwing at 70 feet.
“He had a day where he was excited about how his arm felt and pushed the gas pedal down a little farther and had some elongated soreness afterward,” general manager Billy Eppler said. “It took a week to calm down, and the soreness is gone.
“In talking to the physical therapists here and at Kerlan-Jobe, it’s very rare that a pitcher does not have a bout of arm soreness or a setback in Tommy John rehab.”
JC Ramirez, who is also recovering from Tommy John surgery, has progressed to throwing two innings of live batting practice. Both he and Middleton are expected to return by late June or early July.
Left-hander Andrew Heaney (elbow inflammation) is scheduled to throw three innings and 45 pitches in an extended spring training game in Arizona on Friday and could start a rehab assignment with a minor league affiliate after that.